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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 354

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(5.02) —I was speaking to the Flags Amendment Bill in October last year before I was interrupted by the calling of an election. Today I would like to continue my remarks. I was happy to hear on the last occasion the Minister for Community Services, Senator Grimes, who was then the Minister for Social Security, say that the Government intended to allow a referendum to be held before any thought was given to changing the flag. A survey by the Queensland newspaper the Courier-Mail showed that 61 per cent of the people were in favour of the existing flag. Certainly, whenever the Australian Labor Party launches an election campaign the main backdrop is that of our Australian flag, although we know that the policy of the Labor Party is to have a republic and to do away with the flag.

The formation of our national flag was a conscious act by the Australian people when Australia became a recognised nation at Federation in 1901. Until then Australia flew the Union Jack. But there was a growing feeling that Australia should have a new flag to reflect its own identity. As a result, a national competition was held to devise a distinctive Australian flag. More than 30,000 entries were received. Indeed, many of those featured Australian flora and fauna, sheaves of wheat, kangaroos, boomerangs and kookaburras, together with the stars and stripes in various colours and combinations. However, the judges decided on the design for our national flag as we know it, with the addition of an extra point to the Federation star in 1908 to take account of Australian territories, which at that time was New Guinea. Now, of course, it represents the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.

The predominant colour is blue. I feel that no colour could be more appropriate for a country such as Australia, which is world renowned for the blue of its clear skies-far too clear at times, when in Queensland, we sometimes wish that we could get some rain. The colour also represents the blue seas which surround us. Of course, I am proud that the Union Jack is still represented on the corner of the flag; that provides our link with Great Britain. We should remember that it was Lieutenant James Cook of the British Royal Navy who, after a long and adventurous voyage, discovered, charted and claimed the east coast of Australia for the British Crown. Indeed, when Captain Phillip arrived at Botany Bay after his epic voyage he did not find here a system of common law, representative government under the Crown, or the English language.

Phillip's small contingent, including the convicts, transported over thousands of miles a culture which took root in the new land. That culture, of course, goes back almost 200 years. But our nation's original roots go back to Britain, and that is why I like to see the Union Jack maintained on our flag and, indeed, the present flag maintained. I believe it is important that the majority of Australians, who, I am sure, wish to maintain our links with Britain, do voice their concern over the rumblings which occur from time to time in regard to proposed changes to the flag. The history of a nation is just as important as its geographical situation. To deny future generations of Australians some visible awareness of that history is to deny our future Australians their heritage.

However, the Federal Labor Government's policy on the flag which was stated in the 1982 ALP platform is to initiate and support moves to establish with popular acceptance an Australian flag and national anthem which would be more distinctively reflective of Australia's independence and identity. The Special Minister of State, the Hon. Mick Young, last year indicated that the Government was considering matters relating to national symbols, including the national flag. Of course, we saw what happened to the national anthem. Some people argue that our present flag in some ways still reflects our colonised status and now that we have become an independent nation we should have a new flag to reflect our national identity. Others even suggest that migrants to this country cannot be expected to live and work under our flag. However, I believe that migrants generally see our Australian flag as symbolising the characteristics of Australia which attracted them to adopt this country as their own in the first place. I understand that members of the Ethnic Communities Council joined the Australian Flag Preservation Committee which was formed in Queensland last year as a demonstration of their commitment.

I believe that the Federal Labor Government has completely misread the hopes and aspirations of migrants in its decision last year to abolish reference to the Queen and God in the main form of the oath of allegiance and now with speculation about a change of flag. I believe also that the Federal Government is off the track in suggesting that Australia should have a new flag for its bi-centennial celebrations. Is it not the purpose of the bicentennial celebrations to commemorate the events and principles which have built Australia over the past 200 years? I believe that our flag symbolises those traditions. Thinking back to the Olympic Games, I know how proud I felt when I saw our present Australian flag being taken to the top of the flag pole, especially when we happened to be smart enough to win a competition. It is a flag of which we can be justly proud, and I believe that people recognise its worth. I think the Goverment would be better off working to build Australian spirit and pride by cementing what we have already.

I strongly believe that any changes to the Australian national flag should be made only if approved by a majority of people in a referendum. I was pleased to hear Senator Grimes say last year that that was what would happen. Our flag is a proud symbol of our history, our independence as a nation and our parliamentary and judicial institutions. I reiterate that the majority of Australians believe that the flag should be retained in its present form. Accordingly, I strongly support Senator Durack's Flags Amendment Bill 1984.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and-by leave-passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.